New Method to Save Salt Marshes Piloted in Buzzards Bay

Wenley Ferguson, director of habitat restoration for Save the Bay in Rhode Island, stands by the excavator on the Little Bay salt marsh in Fairhaven. (Eve Zuckoff/WCAI)

Wearing tall rubber boots, a scientist walked along an overgrown path to the Little Bay salt marsh in Fairhaven.

“I’m going to kind of weave us up through this back zone,” said Alice Besterman, the post-doctoral researcher with the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

Besterman pushed past tall, pale grasses that hid crabs underfoot, and when she reached the salt marsh, it was low tide. She should have been standing on a meadow of short, lush grass, but that’s not what surrounded her.

“So you see no grass, unvegetated, sandy mud where all the grass is gone,” she said, pointing to dozens of areas on the marsh. “In some locations, you also see anywhere from one inch to five or six inches of standing water.”

These muddy areas are what scientists call “dieback.”

Increasing high tides are causing water to get stuck on the marsh. That standing water kills the soft grass, leaving big patches of mud.

“As these areas of dieback that hold water expand over time, they essentially start eating the marsh from the inside out,” Besterman explained.

Normally, salt marshes migrate inland—retreating from the sea level rise that’s carving away at the coastline. When marshes are healthy enough to move, they can continue to provide habitat for fish and wildlife, filter pollution from the watershed, and protect nearby homes from flooding.

But now, climate change is making sea levels rise faster than humans have ever seen before, so these dieback areas are growing too quickly for the marshes to retreat and maintain their integrity.

Read the rest of this story at WCAI’s website.